Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, April 14, 2024

Medford City Council passes ordinance to establish affordable housing trust

The Medford City Council recently passed an ordinance to create an affordable housing trust for the city. This trust would allow a selected board to buy small properties and secure land to turn into more affordable housing. Medford residents would be able to buy or rent property from the city, and that property would be kept under market rates.

This ordinance was originally proposed in 2020, although the pandemic and other financial pressures became the top priority for the council at the time. Medford is joining over 100 other communities in the state that already have an affordable housing trust.

“A lot of the city effort was spent on trying to stabilize our revenue situation and deal with the pandemic response,” Medford City Councilor Justin Tseng said. “It is a matter of priorities, and I think we could have gotten to work on this sooner.”

Medford City Councilor Kit Collins (LA’15) expressed her relief that this ordinance was finally passed.

“The fact that we are only just passing an affordable housing trust in 2023 means that we’re behind the eight ball,” Collins said. “There is already a need. People have been displaced in Medford for years. We are not in a good place, so thank God we didn’t do this any later.”

According to Collins, now that the ordinance is passed, trustees will be picked and the work to find assets for the trust can begin.

“Through the affordable housing trust, what we can do is take certain units off of the market and protect them for affordable housing in perpetuity,” she said.

The funding for this trust will likely come primarily from the Medford Community Preservation Act, according to Roberta Cameron, Somerville’s CPA manager. The Medford CPA uses property taxes and state-allocated funds for historic preservation, affordable housing and outdoor recreational facilities.

According to Cameron, other sources for funding are also being considered to help subsidize development, such as a real estate transfer fee.

“Having the affordable housing trust is going to send a message to the development community that Medford is serious about building affordable housing,” Cameron said. “We want them to come, and we’ll help them to provide resources to make housing more affordable.”

She described that one of the issues when creating the trust was finding a way to make it equitable for the workers who were building these projects. Cameron explained that it was difficult enough to get developers to build affordable housing in Medford without requiring that they pay their workers a premium wage.

“Subsidizing that labor to a premium comes at the direct expense of affordable housing,” Cameron said.

Eventually, the council came to a compromise: to create a strong preference in the ordinance for fair wages without requiring them.

“Admirably, some very labor-focused counselors and proponents of the ordinance said ‘A prevailing wage agreement is a good thing,’” Collins said. “We’re saying in the text of the ordinance [that] the city really wants to work with developers that are in good faith, offering the best deal possible to their workers while still making sure that an affordable housing trust will result in affordable housing.”

Tseng said that Tufts’ lack of guaranteed housing for third and fourth-year students adds to the need for affordable housing in Medford.

“It’s kind of a lose-lose,” he said. “[Tufts students] are losing because there’s a lack of housing security, … but Medford residents are also on the losing end because … [Tufts students] not having guaranteed housing drives the demand, which means that our shortage problem is even more of a crisis and it drives up the rental prices.”

Collins said that Tufts students can get involved in advocacy to help alleviate the housing crisis. 

“I think [the crisis is] a really important thing for Tufts students as Medford constituents to be aware of and to think of as something to contribute to, as people who contribute to the housing situation in Medford,” Collins said. “There are a lot of community groups in Medford that are working on affordable housing and housing equity, including Housing Medford. … [Students are] very, very welcome to get involved.”

Collins added that Tufts students also have a lot to gain from the affordable housing trust, especially for those that plan to live in Medford post-graduation.

“A lot of people that go to Tufts are wealthy, but not all are, and a lot of them want to stay in Medford,” Collins said. “I stayed in Medford after I graduated; having [affordable housing] available on the macro level is good for the housing market in Medford.”

Collins also hopes it will increase diversity in Medford.

“I think everybody stands to benefit from an affordable housing trust in the abstract and that everybody benefits when communities are more equitably accessible to people from the range of income and job backgrounds,” Collins said

Tseng is excited to see the city government taking action to create more affordable housing.

“[This is] just a massive accomplishment for our city in terms of indicating that housing is an important issue to our government,” Tseng said. “We hear the residents. We hear people who are being priced out, … and we’re actually doing something about it.”